One of the world’s poorest countries, Sierra Leone is looking desperately for hope, anywhere and from anyone. This small country (about the size of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg combined) is still staggering to its feet after a decade-long civil war that brutally snuffed out more than 50,000 lives. Over one-third of the country’s population of 4.6 million inhabitants have been displaced and 500,000 refugees have fled into neighbouring countries. Other displaced people have arrived in Sierra Leone seeking refuge from neighbouring Liberia’s civil war. Sierra Leone has one of the ten largest refugee populations in the world according to the UNHCR.
War in Sierra Leone
Ravaged by the war, Sierra Leone now suffers from having the lowest life expectancy in the world (41 years old) and the highest infant mortality rate (one in four children die before five years of age). Normally preventable diseases kill many, as does the lack of basic sanitation and clean water. Some reports indicate that possibly 100 people starve daily.
Those responsible for the slaughter and its resulting poverty were often only children. The 40,000 man predominantly Muslim rebel army consisted mainly of ragtag adolescents and villagers forced into fighting. Their leaders, disgruntled ex-army soldiers, attempted to overthrow the government and take over the country’s diamond trade, which had previously made Sierra Leone the wealthiest country in West Africa. During the war, combatants from all sides took to cannibalism, believing it would gain them spiritual power and protection.
Main Groupings in Sierra Leone
Gripped by despair and often fearful, the Muslim population makes up about 60% of the population, while Christians total about 10%. There is also a significant religious syncretism with traditional indigenous religions. Sierra Leone was the first West African country to be evangelised, however, many people groups are apparently still unreached. Muslims and Christians remain at peace with each other and intermarriage is common. In such cases, spouses may attend both the church and the mosque. Many people, both Christians and Muslims, believe that the two religions are the same. Some genuine efforts to evangelise Muslims have produced fruit. Many signs and wonders were seen during the war, also resulting in conversions.
The majority of Muslims cannot read the Koran. Some practice the recitation and memorisation of the Arabic texts which they generally do not understand. For most people, Christianity usually represents education, instead of a personal relationship with Christ.
The two main people groups (Mende, Temne) traditionally visit witchdoctors and cast curses. The Temnes, are traders and have little interest in education; The Mendes place more value on education and politics. The significant Lebanese community holds a strong share of Sierra Leone’s commerce, and nearly all are Muslims.
Prayer Guide for Sierra Leone:
* Pray for relief and development programs, military and NGO workers whose beliefs influence the nation.
* Pray for the victims of the rebel war: refugees, internally displaced people, amputees, child soldiers, child sex slaves and others. Pray for an atmosphere of forgiveness and reconciliation.
* Pray for the Christians to remain strong in their witness so that all may find hope in Jesus.
Background on Sierra Leone (World Factbook)
The government is slowly reestablishing its authority after the 1991 to 2002 civil war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (about one-third of the population). The last UN peace-keepers withdrew in December 2005, leaving full responsibility for security with domestic forces, but a new civilian UN office remains to support the government. The new government’s priorities include furthering development, creating jobs, and stamping out endemic corruption.
Economy of Sierra Leone
While Sierra Leone possesses substantial mineral, agricultural, and fishery resources, its economic and social infrastructure is not well developed, and serious social disorders continue to hamper economic development. About two-thirds of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture. Manufacturing consists mainly of the processing of raw materials and of light manufacturing for the domestic market. Alluvial diamond mining remains the major source of hard currency earnings, accounting for nearly half of Sierra Leone’s exports. The fate of the economy depends upon the maintenance of domestic peace and the continued receipt of substantial aid from abroad, which is essential to offset the severe trade imbalance and supplement government revenues. The IMF has completed a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility program that helped stabilize economic growth and reduce inflation. A recent increase in political stability has led to a revival of economic activity, such as the rehabilitation of bauxite mining. A number of offshore oil discoveries were announced in 2009 and 2010. The development on these reserves, which could be significant, is still several years away.
Statistics on Sierra Leone
Population: 5,485,998 (July 2012 est.) World Rank #112
Life Expectancy at Birth: 56.55 years. World Rank #197
Ethnic groups: Temne 35%, Mende 31%, Limba 8%, Kono 5%, Kriole 2% (descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area in the late-18th century; also known as Krio), Mandingo 2%, Loko 2%, other 15% (includes refugees from Liberia’s recent civil war, and small numbers of Europeans, Lebanese, Pakistanis, and Indians)
Religions: Muslim 60%, indigenous beliefs 30%, Christian 10%
Languages: English (official, regular use limited to literate minority), Mende (principal vernacular in the south), Temne (principal vernacular in the north), Krio (English-based Creole, spoken by the descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area, a lingua franca and a first language for 10% of the population but understood by 95%)
Literacy: 35.1% male: 46.9% – female: 24.4%
School Life Expectancy: 12 years
Sierra Leone – Video
A refreshing insight into the vibrant world of the rural region of Pejah in south eastern Sierra Leone.